A long social-media inspired conversation about raising genderless kids, queer identity and… being human

Open Letters

To the “Canadians” Who Hate Immigration:

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I get it, we have people on welfare, we have soaring housing prices, we have joblessness, we have people that aren’t ourself taking ‘advantage’ of healthcare that is paid for by all Canadian citizens (rather than the obviously preferable state of people languishing in illness, sprawled on sidewalks) and the crowds in Canadian cities and small towns don’t look as homogeneous as they used to. I get that it’s easy (don’t worry, I didn’t say racist, Islamophobic, Xenophobic, or ignorant… gasp) to blame a vulnerable, marginalized population for problems that existed long before these individuals actually arrived… but really, have you considered what our country would look like if you ended immigration and pulled back the welcome mat that has long been extended to many refugees to our country?

Today on Global News, there was an article called: What Will Canada Look Like in 2036?

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Sparked by the shock (I don’t know why I was shocked) of reading this article and seeing the comments (90% of which were anti-immigrant and anti-helping-anyone that-isn’t-directly-related-to-you/like you) I got to thinking… what would the average internet commenter’s life be like, in Canada, if we just got rid of all these immigrants and refugees? Because let’s not be mistaken for people who want to do the right thing even if it’s hard, or has a price tag, or means we have to question our privilege… and let’s instead take a look in a mirror that reveals we’re more self-interested than most of us are comfortable with. Even if those others hadn’t been shown, statistically, to be highly resourceful, persevering individuals, who have worked tremendously hard, courageously overcoming many life-threatening situations, forging ahead for the betterment of their families and often bringing expertise and money into our economy and workforce, seldom expecting handouts, leaving behind family, homes, money, memories and degrees, to try and begin anew… why should they get the same chance YOUR family had, generations before now…?

In this baby-nation, with a declining birth rate, just about to celebrate its 150th birthday…What trumps caring about others more than thinking only about our own interests?

How would your life change if we made good on your plan/dream to ban immigrants, refugees and itinerant labourers? 

  1. You’d have to stop Instagramming about the new Sushi place you discovered. And the Indian buffet. And the roti. And the Jerk Chicken. And the bao. The Dim Sum. And even the tacos. Oh, Shit. And the Bubble Tea.
  2. You’d have to pay your white neighbours’ 12 year old $20/hour to babysit your children, instead of underpaying a live-in domestic from a developing nation who is sending 3/4 of her paycheque home to her own family.
  3. Your cheap wine would cost 4x as much, because Canadian college students would work summers in the vineyards (and not leading wine-country bike tours, swirling glasses for tourists)… picking and hauling grapes, seasonal produce and all of the other back-breaking jobs currently held by seasonal workers who do not get benefits, pensions, job security or adequate pay for the dangerous, specialized jobs they do.
  4. You’d have to ride in taxi driven by a high school graduate named Jake, not a driver who was a doctor in Sri Lanka, before he came here… whose license and schooling our country won’t recognize, but which is super convenient in case you have a heart attack while you are a passenger in his cab, or go into labour en route.
  5. You’d be able to applaud your daughter Stacey’s graduation from wherever, with the highest mark in her class – made possible by the fact that the class average is low… because all of the high-achieving, diverse kids from immigrant families, trying to make good on the opportunities their families scrimped and saved for are no longer making it a challenge for Stacey to come out on top, even though English is Stacey’s first language and she started in Montessori before she could walk.
  6. On the upside, you’d be able to wear any old culturally appropriating Halloween costume or festival outfit you want, because no one would complain about how offensive it is. On the downside, there’d be no teenagers buying costumes, cause they’d all be working at Party City and every other minimum wage-paying job … because there’d be a lot of job vacancies. Also, there would be pretty lame festivals, because every band would sound like Nickelback (I don’t have any real support for this… it’s just a hunch).
  7. People who like Nickelback would be the majority.
  8. Your vacation photos would look way cooler, because you’d be the only person on your block who had been there, because the cool, diverse families wouldn’t be here anymore and that jerk who keeps one-upping you by talking about his childhood in Ghana would be gone. Phew.
  9. You’d be the immigrant. Shit. What? That’s right. If there weren’t people newer than you here, some of the folks  – with names like L. Zeumer, and J. Sikorski (who had some pretty intolerant things to say on the Global News comments) – would be the freshest immigrants here. We all would.  My family has been here for generations (many) and I have no more right to be here than anyone else. Because the only people that aren’t immigrants to this country are the Metis, Inuit and First Nations people. But they’re often targeted by the same people who blast immigration. Pretty horrific. I have benefitted from being born in Canada, as a queer woman, more than I can possibly explain, but I did nothing to deserve that. This privilege is completely unearned. So, I’d love it if -instead of turning their rage against immigrants – those who ignorantly despise newcomers would ask themselves, what do I actually know about immigrants? Stats? Policies? and…If I were at the door, asking to come in… what do I really bring to the table that would make me a welcome, deserving new addition to this country? Good thing we’re a multi-cultural mosaic, ’cause it means there’s room for all kinds – even intolerant bigots.
  10. The landscape and history would look completely different if you were the one being considered a newcomer. As Jef Cronkhite wrote, quite insightfully on the Global News comment page, “Change the names of the countries, and it was the same thing 100 years or so ago. The only difference, is that back then, immigrants came from France, Ireland, Scotland, Portugal and Italy, primarily.”

I want my country to be our country. I want it to stand for the things I was taught as a child to be proud of. Closed-fistedness and closed-mindedness are not traits to be admired and if we know and have learned anything from our past – it’s that Canada aspires to be good, kind and inclusive. It hasn’t always done well. We have major reparations to make for our past, but we will get there faster, better and stronger (sorry Kanye) if we empower all Canadians, new and old, to work towards a goal where our diverse talents, voices and skills make the country ‘strong and free’ for all. That doesn’t mean it will be a free-for-all, as some fear, but it sure would be a good start if we could become a place where the only time we ‘immigrants’ being stereotyped, or disparaged is in a satirical blog post that calls out behaviours that are antiquated, backwards and just plain wrong.

*** Just in case you missed the sarcasm, my black, Jamaican-Chinese-Indian, lesbian wife thought I should include a little disclaimer that this is a satire. 

America, How Could You?

Open Letters

My lament takes a dark turn. Nothing brings reality into sharper focus then I brush with mortality. Life-and-death situations tend to bring things into sharp sharp contrast.

I thought the worst thing that could happen today had already happened: and accused sexual predator. A racist. A misogynist. A man whose many many public gaffes should have been enough individually to disqualify him from even the consideration of running for student government, let alone running a sovereign nation… Has managed to convince 50% of millions of people that he is fit to be president.

So I dressed for the occasion.

The End. I dressed for a day of mourning, and (ironically?) posed in front of an image of sheep plummeting off a cliff en masse – one lone sheep is going against the herd, bleating ‘excusez moi…’. And the day only got worse from there.


And we can all joke about how the Canadian immigration site crashed due to all the increased traffic, or how maybe this is all some horrible misunderstanding… But when I woke up and checked my phone, confirming what I thought must be a mistake as I went to bed, a deep discomfort set up residence in my gut. How did this happen?


The dread exploded with apropos responses, and I was shielded from many of the exuberant postings of joy from people who actually voted for this man, because Facebook at least can protect me from this reality through its ingenious filter settings. However, there’s a complicated reality being revealed… And what’s most disturbing is the sheer number of people who are willing to accept someone whose personality is vile, whose values are vile beyond comprehending, because these voters think he is somehow better than Hillary Clinton. Whatever your issues are with her, how can so many people have been duped into voting against their own best interest, for a man who has let workers take the fall for his financial losses, outsourced jobs within his own enterprises, degraded and humiliated his opponents, female and male, made so many blatantly racist comments that we hardly notice the subtle ones, like when he refers to ghettos and each time throws in the words Blacks and Latinos, as though these are the only people living below the poverty line, as though Black and Latino are synonymous with poor and unsuccessful, or that inner cities are homogeneously populated… The view from up here is unsettling.


And I thought it couldn’t get worse. But at 8 AM as I began teaching my first class of 17 and 18-year-olds, I got the news that one of our very own students bodies was found after he had been missing for several days. Shah Ruhk is who I’m thinking of today because his life is important, because I can’t stop thinking about his last moments, because he is Muslim, because the rhetoric across the border demonizes young people like him, because I have read his heart felt writing, where the ambition, love, and values of a young man are so clearly revealed and are so contrary to everything that Donald Trump claims to know about people like this young man who is so tragically lost to us. The last piece of school work that this boy wrote, praised his parents for providing him with opportunities to live and grow in this country, praised his faith for teaching him how to respect the opportunity to learn and to pursue a bright future; he wrote about the admiration he had for his teachers, the love and dedication he felt towards his family, the importance of treating children with kindness and respecting your elders. The last conversation I had with this quiet, sweet young man was about how he was continuing to encourage his brother to get back on track and take his studies seriously; he said to me, “I can’t give up on him he’s my brother and I need to look after him.”

Maybe this is the most profound statement that has come to mind today, because, for me, his words might also be applied to the way we view the current situation south of our border – we need to respond with love, and patience, and clear values, and lead the way, hoping that we will set our neighbour on a better path.

I don’t really know how I got through today, with the eyes of so many young people watching, and asking how to deal with this loss. By talking. By asking questions. By listening. And remembering what is important.

Sex Ed and Satire: A Lesson For All

Open Letters

I often feel as though I’m not allowed to say what I really think about the politics in my own province, given my role as an educator, and especially given my ‘gay agenda.’

So, sometimes when you find a source of fabulous online satire, you let others do the talking for you. The aptly named The Beaverton website has helped to raise some awareness, with a bite. Check out their recent article,

Ontario schoolchildren: “Our parents aren’t mature enough for us to learn about sex”

TORONTO – Elementary school students across Ontario have begun to protest the province’s updated health and physical education curriculum, expressing concern that their parents aren’t “mentally developed enough” for them to learn about sex.

“The new sex ed program is way too much for mom and dad,” said Dana, age 12. “As soon as it was announced they started to whine and complain and throw fits. Daddy even locked himself in his room and started blasting Deep Purple when I tried to ask him about it. I really don’t think they are ready for me to learn about sex let alone LGBTQ issues.”

The revised syllabus, the first such change in Ontario’s curriculum in 17 years, includes discussions of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexting, concepts which many fear parents aren’t emotionally prepared for their children to be taught. This sentiment has been vocally expressed in demonstrations around Queen’s Park, where thousands of children have gathered with banners such as, “Let parents be parents!”, “Don’t damage our parents!” and “My parent, my choice.”

“Do you honestly think that a man who paints his entire body blue every time he goes to a Jay’s game has the maturity for his children to learn about masturbation?” asked a picketer, Jeremy, referring to his father. “I don’t think so.”

Ontario’s children are lobbying the government to get sex ed postponed until it is absolutely necessary. If it happens too early, they reason, their parents may be made uncomfortable.

“Honestly, I don’t like the idea of William knowing that I’m learning about penises and vaginas. He’s only 43, after all,” explained Michael, age 7. “We should wait until he can fully understand it. Ideally, after I’ve contracted an STI or accidentally gotten a girl pregnant.”

In light of these issues, the Ontario government is considering removing sex ed all together, hoping instead that schoolchildren accidentally walk in on their parents.

 Last modified on Thursday, 07 May 2015 23:26

http://www.thebeaverton.com/national/item/1848-ontario-schoolchildren-our-parents-aren-t-mature-enough-for-us-to-learn-about-sex

The Union Wars and Overpaid Public Employees

Open Letters

This actually has nothing to do with unions. At least not the current union business. It does have to do with the ongoing (about once – in earnest- every two year bloodbath wherein a public sector, usually unionized, gets slaughtered in the media and court of public opinion for having the audacity to stand up for their rights).

Usually the hot button issue is salary. But, let’s be clear, it’s rarely about salary for us. More so ‘human rights’ (the right to negotiate the working terms of our contracts) and the inequity of being maligned in the public eye and used by the government as scapegoats to pay off, or pay down, a deficit we didn’t create.

Most of what I hear about teachers can be chalked up to ignorance; to the fact that most of us have been to the dentist a bunch of times but don’t feel qualified, after sitting in that chair, to carry out the job of a dentist, but feel totally justified in imagining that we know what it’s like to be a teacher. Some dot-jots might help:

– We get summers off. Yes, we used to be an agrarian society and farmers needed their children to be out of school to help work the fields. It isn’t a glorified vacation, or some sweet deal we negotiated.

-It isn’t a paid vacation. We are paid for the hours we spend AT work, IN the classroom. The pay is calculated and divided into lump sums to be given to us every two weeks – still ONLY based on hours worked.

-We don’t get paid for the coaching, supervisions at night, dances, trips, etc., that we take time away from our families to do so other people’s children have a well-rounded learning experience. We do it because we love it.

-Those sick days and perks that others are so jealous of? We got those in past negotiations INSTEAD of higher salaries. So, when they get stripped in current ‘negotiations’ it amounts to a paycut because they weren’t things given to us without sacrifices in other areas.

-I have three degrees and spent seven years in university to become a professional in my field. I am helping to prepare, for life and society, our country’s greatest asset – your children. I care and invest in them as my life’s work. Treating teachers like scum sends a terrible message about the value of our role in raising the next generation.

-The fight we often step into, in standing up for our rights, is one that sets the terms for the kind of rights your children will have when they enter the workforce.

-We ARE taking one for the team and doing our part, and have been for the past 6 years at least (salary freezes, no seniority or cost of living increases, while HST and cost of living has made our expenses, and yours, higher)

-Yes, there are bad, lazy teachers. And office workers. And police officers. And engineers. And assembly line workers. And… pretty much every job has some employees who don’t do a fantastic job.

-The teaching market is SUPER saturated. Qualified, eager teachers and waiting years to get their foot in the door. If we didn’t love our profession, we would be doing something else.

-Our job isn’t easy. Neither is yours. But I wouldn’t presume to tell you what your job is like, seeing as how I don’t work there. I have one of the most rewarding jobs I can imagine. Truly. I love it, but don’t so much love having people speculate about how easy it would be to do it, or indulging the stereotypes that each profession suffers under.

-Bottom line: Please don’t begrudge those who have employment, benefits and job security the fact that they have the things all hard-working people should have. Yes, we have pensions – we pay into them and, in this society, rather than trying to claw back gains by groups of unionized workers and pettily scorning them for having (gasp) future financial security, why don’t we work harder to make sure ALL citizens have adequate care, safety, living wages, health and financial security for their futures? Wouldn’t this make our society more productive and secure?

For a really fun overview of how much teachers make, which completely explains why we are so overpaid, check out the following breakdown by Meredith Menden:

“Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work nine or ten months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do — babysit!We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and planning — that equals 6-1/2 hours).So each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585 a day.

However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.

LET’S SEE….

That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6-1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nationwide) is $50,000.

$50,000/180 days = $277.77 per day / 30 students = $9.25 / 6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student — a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)

WHAT A DEAL!!!!”

Meredith Menden